“You” Approach & Constructive Language

Considering the rhetorical aspects of any writing situation, such as purpose, stance, and audience, is an essential part of adapting the style of a message for any audience. Adopting a you-centered business style can help you achieve your purpose, choose a stance, and analyze your audience.  A you-centered business style employs the you view and an audience-centered tone to choose particular words and adopt a targeted tone in a message.

The “you view” analyzes and emphasizes the reader’s interests and perspectives. Because the reader’s interest or benefit is stressed, the writer is more likely to help the reader understand information or act on a request. Adopting a you view often, but not always, involves using the words you or your rather than we, our, I, and mine. Consider the following sentence that focuses on the needs of the writer and the organization (we) rather than on those of the reader.

  • We have not received your signed invoice, so we cannot process your payment.

Even though the sentence uses the word “your” twice, the first clause suggests that the point of view focuses on the writer’s need to receive the invoice to process the payment. The word “we” itself is not problematic, but the we view is. Consider the following revisions, written with the you view.

  • We understand the importance of processing your payment and will process it as soon as we receive your signed invoice.
  • So you can receive your payment promptly, please send your signed invoice.

The needs and benefits of the reader are stressed in both of these examples. The first example focuses on the needs of the audience by associating the payment with “importance.” The second revision emphasizes the benefits to the reader by including the second-person pronouns “you” early in the sentence.

Both revisions also use an audience-centered tone, so the writer is more likely to motivate the reader to act. An audience-centered tone foregrounds the reader’s needs, preferences, and benefits. Incorporating an audience-centered tone into your writing means that you consider the words you choose and the ways in which you assemble those words in a sentence.

Workplace Case Studies

Case Study 1: Delivering Negative News

Let’s consider a few examples based on specific workplace situations. Imagine that you are a Human Resources Manager who must inform employees that paychecks will be delivered a day late. Employees with direct deposit agreements will not be affected. A writer who does not analyze the rhetorical situation before carefully considering style might hastily write, “Due to an error made by our payroll company, all employees who never signed up for direct deposit will receive their paychecks late.”

The writer’s purpose in this writing situation is to tactfully deliver negative news. The writer’s stance should be professional and empathetic, especially since the writer’s audience will probably be disappointed, irritated, or frustrated by the message. Consider the following revision, written with the you view and an audience-centered tone.

  • We apologize for the inconvenience caused by the fact that an issue at PLT processing will delay the next paycheck date by one day. By signing up for direct deposit, you can ensure that your pay will never be delayed.

The writer achieves their purpose by including a buffer with an audience-centered tone (We apologize for the inconvenience) before the bad news (an issue at PLT processing will delay the next paycheck date by one day). The writer also includes the reason for the negative news (an issue at the payroll company, PLT processing). The writer uses the second-person possessive pronoun “your” in the second sentence to promote the you view. The writer also maintains a problem-solving and empathetic, audience-centered tone by waiting until the second sentence to remind the audience that they can sign up for direct deposit.

Case Study 2: Promoting Safety in User Manuals

Another writing context might require a writer to compose a user manual for a ceiling fan. User manuals provide instructions for the setup, operation, and maintenance of a product. Most user manuals also include safety precautions and troubleshooting guides and charts. A writer who does not analyze the rhetorical situation before writing a section about mounting a ceiling fan might write a sentence like, “Be sure to read the following important information about where Super Air Flow fans might best be installed before mounting the fan.”

However, the writer’s purpose is to inform the reader about how to choose locations that will not cause safety issues or damage either furniture or the structure of a room. The writer’s stance should be informative and helpful, especially since the audience will probably appreciate learning about how and where to safely mount their fan. Consider the following revision, written from the you view and with an audience-centered tone.

  • Before mounting your new Super Air Flow fan, read the following helpful recommendations.

This revision incorporates the you view by referring to the user as the owner of the fan (many user manuals are called owner manuals). The revision also adopts a you-centered tone by subordinating the dependent clause that refers to the fan to the independent clause that offers the reader “helpful recommendations.” These revisions will help the writer achieve their purpose—promoting safety.

Principles and Guidelines for Practice

  1. Consider your purpose from the you view.
  2. Analyze the audience and their potential reactions.
  3. Adapt your message to the receiver’s needs by putting yourself in that person’s shoes (adopt the you view) and emphasizing the reader’s benefits (adopt a you-centered tone).

Note: Although emphasizing second-person pronouns (you/your) instead of first-person pronouns (I/we, us, our) can help you cultivate a you-centered business style, a you-centered style should include both a you view and an audience-centered tone that emphasize the reader’s needs and interests.

I/we View

You View and Audience-Centered Tone

[We need your survey response by Friday.] [2] Please share your valuable thoughts about parking on the attached survey; your opinions matter.

Because your ideas count, give us your thoughts on the attached survey about parking.

I need to know what type of model you have before I can do anything. Would it be possible for you to tell me what type of model you have so that I can help you solve this problem?

I can help you solve this problem. Would it be possible for you to tell me what type of model you own?

All employees must immediately fill out the enclosed questionnaire so that we can allocate our continuing education funds to employees. You can be one of the first employees to sign up for our continuing education funds by immediately filling out the enclosed questionnaire.

By immediately filling out the enclosed questionnaire, you can be one of the first employees to receive continuing education funds.

Practice Adopting the You-Centered Business Style

You can strengthen your skills in using the you-centered business style by revising each of the below sentences so that they incorporate both the you view and an audience-centered tone.

  1. All new employees must completely fill out the attached personnel profile form before they can receive their first check.
  2. We can only process complete travel reimbursement requests.
  3. We consider your safety and the safety of others important.
  4. We encourage you to permit air to flow between the two sections of any Super-Fridge refrigerator in order to ensure proper temperatures.
  5. All of our customers should read the user manuals we write so that our products will be installed safely.

Constructive, Positive Language

Unless there is a specific reason not to, use constructive, positive language wherever you can. It’s important to consider how you want your reader to feel, and what may make your reader feel that way. Your goal is to write constructively, which means to use constructive phrasing to convey your message to your reader. Positive language benefits your writing in two ways. First, it creates a positive tone, and your writing is more likely to be well-received. Second, it clarifies your meaning, as positive statements are more concise.

The following examples offer negatively worded sentences which are then edited into more constructive, positive language.  As the audience for these messages, how would you react upon reading each one?

Negative: Your car will not be ready for collection until Friday.
Positive: Your car will be ready for collection on Friday.

Negative: Your holiday time is not approved until your manager clears it.
Positive: Your holiday time will be approved when your manager clears it.

Negative: A decision will not be made unless all board members agree.
Positive: A decision will be made when all board members agree.

Negative: The event cannot be scheduled without a venue.
Positive: The event will be scheduled when the venue booking is finalized on Friday.

Note that the last two sets of examples use multiple negatives in one sentence, which you should try to avoid. When readers encounter more than one negative in a sentence, their brains have to do more cognitive work to decipher the meaning.

As you’ve seen, writing constructively requires an awareness of potential audience reaction; it does not require a lot of additional words.  In most of the examples, just a few words were changed to create a more positive tone.

In general, strive for that positive tone in professional writing.  However, sometimes you’ll need to communicate information that’s unpleasant, such as delivering bad news or rejecting a request.  Communicating constructively is possible—and arguably even more important—in these situations. Regardless of message, how can you ensure you are communicating constructively?

  • Adopt an adult-to-adult approach: that is to say, avoid talking down to your reader in a patronizing tone, and likewise avoid sounding unwilling to take responsibility. Aim to communicate respectfully, responsibly, confidently, and cooperatively — as one responsible adult to another.
  • Be courteous:  focus on the reader as much as possible. Use “you” unless it results in blaming (one effective use of passive verbs is to avoid assigning blame: “mistakes were made”). Use traditionally accepted forms of courtesy and politeness.
  • Focus on the positive:  emphasize what you can do rather than what you can’t. Try to avoid negative wording and phrasing (no, not, never, none, isn’t, can’t, don’t, etc.). Focus on what can be improved.
  • Be genuine:  apologize if you have made a mistake. Take responsibility and promise to do better. Be authentic in your expression. Avoid relying on cliches or standard phrases not common to your own way of speaking or writing. Make reasonable claims that can be backed with evidence.

Try It

Revise the following memo to adopt a more constructive, positive tone and a “you” attitude.  In addition to these types of edits, what other types of edits might be done to apply good communication strategies and make this message more effective, as well as more palatable to its audience?


From:     Ann Smith
To:          All Employees
Date:       Feb. 3, 20XX
Subject:   Littering


For some time now, smoking has been strictly prohibited around the perimeter of the Main Building entrance. Do NOT smoke anywhere near the doors!

Some of you still insist on smoking and have been doing so inside this area. As a result, the areas near the rear exit and around the picnic tables are constantly littered with smoking-related debris (cigarette butts, empty cigarette boxes, used lighters, etc.), creating an eyesore and making more work for my staff, who have to keep cleaning up this mess.

Starting Monday, sand buckets will be provided outside the read doors and in the picnic area. Use them!


[1] The text of You-Centered Business Style is taken from You-Centered Business Style in the Writing Commons and is used under a CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 Unported license.

[2] Sentence inserted into the text of You-Centered Business Style, since a similar sentence should have been included.